Unfortunately the rain put a damper on the European finals but they were still intriguing if not free-flowing. We also saw Super Rugby, ProRugby and the World 7s Series. Here is my round-up of all the action.
European Rugby Champions Cup
Racing Metro 92 9 – 21 Saracens
1 from 1, a clean sweep! Well not that hard with just one game.
On the surface this was a kicking dual in the wet that Saracens won. If you look a little deeper Saracens were on top for much of the game and had several opportunities to score that were just missed. Clearly the weather impacted the game and whilst there has been plenty of comment on social media about it being a boring game, I feel that was overly harsh.
It was clear that Dan Carter was hampered by his injury and had to leave the game early. The New Zealand public has been concerned over how fragile that he had become and somehow held it all together for 2015. It will be interesting if he can be managed within the demands of French club rugby.
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Harlequins 19 – 26 Montpellier Hérault
1 from 1, got it right again.
I might have got the prediction right but it could so easily have been different. Montpellier got themselves in the lead and were happy to keep Quins at arm’s length. That nearly backfired as Quins butchered at least two try scoring opportunities. In the end they didn’t score a try until the 72nd minute. They still managed to claw themselves back to within 7 points and had the ball as time ran out. Then the unexpected happened as Botica had a brain fade and kicked the ball away for territory.
Highlanders 34 – 26 Crusaders
Rebels 22 – 30 Brumbies
Hurricanes 29 – 14 Reds
Waratahs 31 – 8 Bulls
Sunwolves 17 – 17 Stormers
Cheetahs 34 – 20 Kings
Lions 43 – 5 Blues
Jaguares 22 – 25 Sharks
6 from 8, a good weekend considering there was a draw.
The Landers v Saders game is being called one of the best of all time already. The Landers soaked up the Saders pressure and then were clinical on attack. The Saders had 2 tries disallowed correctly when the Landers hit back with 3 tries. If the Landers were kicking better than 67% then the gap would have been even bigger. This was a real statement game after the Saders had won 8 on the trot but the Landers are still a team that drop off considerably if they lose a couple of players.
The Brumbies set piece was enough to see off the Rebels. This probably means the Rebels can’t challenge for the playoffs. One of the things that marked this game was the poor tee kicking. The Rebels were 50% kicking for goal but the Brumbies were under 30%. That wasn’t helped by a quick dropkick that was to make sure the try wasn’t reviewed. There was a clear forward pass and even though the ref had awarded the try he has until the conversion is taken to call for a review. This is something that I’ll be talking about in a future Rugby Thoughts piece.
The scoreline suggests a comfortable winter the Canes but this was anything but. A try on halftime gave the Canes the lead and they held on to that for all the second half. However it took an intercept try early in the second half to open up the gap and another after the buzzer went to later the home side. They were in control and didn’t look like losing but it wasn’t a rampant win that will worry the other sides.
The Tahs comfortable saw off the Bulls who didn’t score a try until the 74th minute when the game was well gone. The big talking point though was about Beale who injured himself early in the game. He had just signed a big contact to go to Wasps next season and initial reports were that he could be out for as long as 12 months. That has come down to 6 months but the Tahs and Wallabies will still have to manage without him. The Tahs have looked much better since Foley has come back and they will be doing everything they can to keep him fit.
The Stormers put in a poor performance in Singapore and should have lost against the Sunwolves. Fortunately for them the Sunwolves are in a habit of losing games and don’t know who to close them out. The Stormers came into this season as the top South African side and now they will have to bounce back from this quickly to make sure they are in the playoffs.
No one really cared about the Cheetahs v Kings game as they have both been poor this season and won’t be getting anywhere near the playoffs. The Cheetahs pulled out a lead rather easily and to give the Kings some credit they did comeback but were easily beaten.
The Lions put in an impressive performance in the wet against the Blues. It’s rare that you see a game thats won in the first 11 minutes. They had scored 3 tries and were 19-0 ahead by then. The Lions didn’t add to that in the first half but piled on the points in the second. A 74h minute try saved the Blues from being nilled but that was no consolation.
The Jags managed to lose a game that they should have won. Lambie on his return kicked the Sharks to victory in Argentina. The Jags had the possession and territory but a couple of times didn’t get the points when camped in the Sharks 22. Add in a 60% kicking success at goal and giving up penalties in their own half and the you have the recipe for a Sharks victory.
Here is my summary of how things stand after round 13.
Sacramento 13 – 35 Denver
San Diego 24 – 20 Ohio
Denver continued their domination of the tournament and are 4 from 4 leading the standings on 18 points. San Diego won the battle of the best of the rest and are now clear in 2nd on 15 points ahead of Ohio on 12 points.
World 7s Series
Samoa beat Fiji in the final to win their first World Series stop of the season. The season has had an interesting narrative. Initially it was of a very open competition as 8 different teams filled the 8 semifinal slots in the first 2 stops. Over the next 5 tournaments Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa came to the fore with Australia a little further back in 4th but ahead of the chasing pack. Then in the last two tournaments we have had upset winners in the form of Kenya and Samoa who hadn’t shown the form to go all the way before. The draws in those tournaments helped them but that happens in nearly all the stops to a greater or lesser extent. Next weekend is London and the final stop of the tour after which eyes will turn to the Olympics.
If you are wondering what has happened to the Ladies, they have not had a stop recently and their final tournament will be in France in 2 weeks time.
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